Top 5 most important product recalls in US history

Product recalls happen nearly every day, but these five had a lasting impact. Can you guess which product recall was the most significant?

1. Tylenol

Wikimedia Commons/File
Bottles of Tylenol and Tylenol PM are shown in this undated file photo. Tylenol was at the center of the first major product recall in the US.

Date: 1982-1983

Why it’s important: The Chicago Tylenol murders in 1983 led to arguably the most significant recall in US history, fundamentally changing the packaging and distribution practices for food and medicine. Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol’s parent company, became the gold standard for company conduct during a product recall (although its reputation has slipped in light of more recent drug recalls). 

After seven people died in the Chicago area after ingesting Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson stopped production, suspended advertising, and removed products from shelves nationwide. The recall involved 31 million bottles and cost an estimated $100 million. It was considered the first major product recall in the US. 

Authorities discovered that the Tylenol had been removed from store shelves and laced with poisonous cyanide.

In the aftermath of the ordeal, Johnson & Johnson was lauded for its quick action and honesty with customers, and for building connections with the FDA and law enforcement agencies to figure out the problem. The company’s profits quickly recovered, and the incident prompted tamper-proof seals to be introduced on much mass-manufactured packaging.

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